Last November, OleoTech pitched and won $5,000 at the 23rd Velocity Fund Finals (VFF). OleoTech uses the oleophilic properties of fiber from waste tires to remove hydrocarbons in stormwater runoff.
We caught up with Gene Shim, co-founder of OleoTech, for a post-VFF update.
Q. How has your company developed since winning VFF?
Gene Shim: The team has changed in the last four months. We have been getting a lot of help from our friend, Emily Lo, in terms of marketing, business development, consultation, and pitching. Three of the original members have committed to stay on after graduation, with two full-time. The rest of the team will focus on finishing the Capstone Project and then move on to find full-time positions outside of OleoTech.
Q. What is your company currently working on?
The company has been making great progress. We have divided the work into two sub-teams: technical and business. The business team has been keeping busy with networking and building a business plan and applying it to multiple pitches and competitions. The business team will be very busy until the end of April as we are competing in the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Award and Palihapitiya Venture Creation Fund.
The technical team has also made great progress in the laboratory. The team has built experiments and acquired materials in order to build prototypes of different designs. We have tested the designs under various conditions and now have the data needed to analyze and improve the product.
Q. Since your win at VFF, what has been your team’s most exciting moment?
The University of Waterloo’s Water Institute reached out to us to write an article about OleoTech, which was published on their website!
Q. What has been your team’s most frustrating moment?
When the technical aspects of the product were not performing well due to misunderstood properties of the material, we felt lost and hopeless. We were able to overcome these feelings by trying other prototypes and gaining a better understanding of the absorbing performances.
Q. What do you enjoy most about building a startup?
The continuous problems and the dynamic work environment have been challenging and demanding, but also exciting and meaningful. We take pride in our work knowing that it is going towards something that matters and could potentially change the world. Working in a small, intimate team can have its problems, but it also challenges us to work with people who have different types of personalities. As a result, we are able to find what we excel at doing and what really drives us.
Q. What did you like most about competing at VFF?
Competing at VFF gave us the confidence that others believe in our product. This was a great motivator for us to reach higher and dream bigger. If it wasn’t for VFF, we would have been doing the bare minimum to get the marks for our FYDP course. VFF helped us to believe that we really have a chance at making this project into something more, and that we can achieve more than just the bare minimum.
Did you miss OleoTech’s pitch? Watch it on YouTube.
Learn more about the Winter 2019 Velocity Fund Finals today!
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.